how to get horse to stop nipping

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how to get horse to stop nipping

Post by Admin on Fri Feb 19, 2010 9:46 am

Dear Panel: For two years I have owned a 13 yr. old Walkaloosa gelding who is too smart for his own

good. If he were human, he'd be a bratty, precocious five year old. He came to me with terrible ground manners and a pushy, clownish disposition. He's forever testing boundaries and is easily bored. For both our sakes, I began intensive Natural Horsemanship training and he's made good progress seeing me as the leader of our "herd of two". All who know him have commented on the improvement we've made since we began the training, both on the ground and under saddle.



There's a lot to admire about this horse, but I'm having trouble with nipping under certain circumstances. In the past, whenever he's become mouthy with me at all, I give him firm verbal "Quit!", and vigorously back him up several steps. Though his ears are not laid back at the time and I suspect that this is mischievious rather than vicious behavior, he knows that this is completely unacceptable. He doesn't exhibit it anymore except in one situation. When a young new rider is in the saddle and I begin leading him by the halter( my neices and nephews love to "ride" in the arena), he sometimes reaches out to nip me. What an opportunist! It's as though he understands that my hands are tied, since I cannot back him forcefully with a novice aboard that might be frightened by it.



The verbal correction alone has little effect. A friend suggests that I ask an experienced rider to ride while I lead, cautioning them that I will back him forcefully when he tries to nip me, thus breaking the cycle. I want to stop this disrespectful, dangerous behavior without causing new issues. Am I on the right track here or is there a better approach?



With Thanks,



Tracey H. , Tennessee
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Re: how to get horse to stop nipping

Post by Ed Dabney on Fri Feb 19, 2010 10:19 am

Nipping or biting is an aggressive act that is dangerous and disrespectful no matter what the root cause – boredom, playfulness, whatever. The first question to ask yourself is, “Am I doing anything to cause the nipping?” such as feeding treats from your hand or allowing the horse to come into your space and be rewarded for crowding you.



When you feed anything from your hand – treats, carrots, grass, hay, grain, etc., you will destroy your leadership relationship with your horse and be considered by your horse as nothing more than a cookie dispenser. Feeding from the hand causes many unwanted behaviors. All of the horse’s attention and affection will be focused on the cookie. These are beautiful qualities that I want focused on me as my horse’s partner and leader.



A horse fed from the hand will literally mug you for his cookie as if he is saying, “Where’s my cookie? Give me my cookie? Is it in this hand? Is it in this pocket?” I never feed anything from my hand; in fact I don’t want to be associated with food in any way. I would rather my horse just find his feed rather than see me bring it to his bucket. I want to be the “treat” for my horse by spending lots of friendly time bonding with him, rubbing and grooming so he gets the idea that life is good with me.



One of my “written in stone” rules is that the horse is never allowed to touch me with any part of his body at any time. “Touch me” means coming within arms length of me. I want my horse to know that if he crowds into my space he will find that my personal space is a very uncomfortable place to be. He would not want to crowd a porcupine so think of your space as a porcupine. This does not mean I don’t love on and rub my horse. I do plenty of loving on my horse but I do it in his space on my terms, not the other way around. He doesn’t barge into me or crowd my space and get rewarded by being rubbed. Instead I drive him out of my space with rhythmic pressure by creating a commotion with my arms, elbows, rope, etc. then I go into his space to rub on him.



I see horses rubbing people with their head, jaw or neck and the person says, “Oh, isn’t that cute. My horse loves me!” This is actually more a sign of disrespect than love. The horse has an itch and thinks of you as a fence post that he can scratch on. That same horse would not even consider going up to the herd leader and scratching himself on that horse. The herd leader is to be respected at all times and will make his boundaries clearly and quickly known to any horse that comes too close. You should have this same air of confident leadership and well established boundaries.



Along with what I’ve described above here is a plan to deal with a nipping horse:

1. Awareness and positioning- When I am with any horse I am always aware of my position relative to their nose. I want the nose to stay straight ahead in a neutral position. If I let the nose swing over into my space then for all practical purposes the horse has already bitten me. I use the backing exercise, rhythmic open palms or elbows, jumping jacks or waving a rope or crop to place the horse at a respectful distance from me. I insist on respect for my space at all times with every horse so I remove their temptation to nose around on me.



2. Attention- With a horse who really wants to have his nose in my space, I’ll drive him outside my space then go into his space and pay him lots of loving attention with both hands all around his head, stroking his cheeks, forelock, lips, nostrils, ears. I want to make sure I am meeting his needs for attention.



3. More Attention- When I step away if he moves his nose towards me I will give his nose more attention than he really wanted by rubbing his nose quickly but gently until he chooses to move his nose away. When he does I leave him alone. If his nose comes back into my space again I greet it with extra enthusiasm. After a few times repeating this process he will decide to leave his nose out of my space.



4. Get him busy- If he starts doing anything I don't like I will back him, circle him or do any of the other exercises until he settles and stands quietly.



Horses don't bite people they respect so work at establishing your solid relationship and leadership position with him.
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Re: how to get horse to stop nipping

Post by Paul Williamson on Sat Feb 20, 2010 2:53 pm

Paul- Hi Tracey, Sounds like you have done a great job turning this horse around for the better. Now, normally I would ask you to take a good look at your horse and think about WHY he is nipping. Very often the behaviour is not as disrespectful as people think it is, it is more likely to be an expression of boredom, excess energy, playfulness, etc.



I am not a big believer of "forcing" a horse to be someone he is not. Meaning that there are horses that enjoy taking kids for a ride while other horses do not. When I take my kids to the stable, I will choose a horse for them that would be happy to interact and walk along nicely. I like to treat my horses according to their personality and if one is playful and energetic, I accept this and deal with him accordingly because often he means no disrespect, he's just being himself and it is not easy for a horse to remember that he cannot act naturally around you. Chances are that he just likes you. Of course this does NOT mean that I tolerate any dangerous behaviour, I'm just saying that horses are just as much individuals as you and I, and many of them would be happier if they were allowed to be "just a horse" instead of an obedience champion (robot).



Given that he's acting out of part boredom (looking for something to occupy himself with) and part habit (coming up with something that he has done before to have something to do), what I would do to stop this behaviour is not far from your own thoughts. Like you said, I would put someone experienced on him and warn them that you will be disciplining him. If you do this right, you might only have to do it once. If you look at a herd of horses, the natural born leaders only need to show what they are made off once, and they do this with a brutal force that we can mimic when dealing with horses ourselves.



As you walk along and he starts nibbing, your reaction must be instant and extremely strong. Use all the body language you can muster to scare the pants off him, so to speak. You basically need to make yourself look very big and launch yourself at him, which is similar to backing him up only stronger. If you manage, you won't even have to touch him to get the desired reaction. But if he's very dopey, you can carry a crop with you and swing it at him without actually touching him. He has to get the surprise of his life. The most important things are timing and enough "pressure". Depending on how smart and dominant he is, and how well you execute the "punishment", you may need to repeat this.



If this behaviour occurs because he is super bored giving pony rides, he might just think up something else to do, something which may be more dangerous, so keep your guard up. You may have to stick with using him for things that both you and he enjoy to ensure you have a happy and manageable horse at all times. For safety reasons it is important that the horse is suitable for what he is being used for. You will have to be the judge here because you know him best and I wish you the best of luck with fixing this.





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Paul Williamson

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